Consider some strange coincidences: When the new executive director of A.D. Players, Jake Speck, moved to Houston about a month ago, his first major welcome was Hurricane Harvey dumping a deluge on the Bayou City. Consider, too, A.D. Players' first show of the new season: Harvey, by Mary Chase, the 1945 Pulitzer-winning comedy of errors about a town drunk everyone thinks is crazy because he’s the only one who can see a six-foot, three-and-one-half inch white rabbit.
Something else, equally important, if not quite coincidental: Of all Houston’s arts organizations, A.D. Players is the only with a distinctly Christian mission statement, written front and center on the company’s website: A Professional Theater Ministry Communicating Through Various Mediums Under The Creative Signature Of God.
So, after a historic flooding event, what’s the Christian thing to do?
“At first, before the storm, we all almost looked at it like it was a funny coincidence, Oh, look, this storm is Harvey and we’re doing Harvey,” Speck says. “But afterward, as the level of devastation unfolded and we realized that Harvey had done all this and that we were doing Harvey, we looked long and hard at how we could respond to the community in a larger way, and how we could bring some healing with the arts.”
And thus came A.D. Players’ Harvey for Harvey initiative, a fundraiser that seeks to touch the Houston community through an admittedly ill-timed play about an imaginary rabbit. First, A.D. Players will donate 20 percent of all the proceeds from Harvey to disaster relief. Then they decided flood victims and first responders may attend any performance free of charge. Finally, the three Saturday matinees during the run have been designated Harvey "Family Days."
"Family Days" mean parents may bring their children ages 5 – 11, and A.D. Players Theater Arts Academy and Touring units will host programming for the little ones in the lobby of the new Jeannette and L.M. George Theater, which opened earlier this year. During the first act of Harvey, the kids get to see an abridged, 45-minute version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They can enjoy intermission with their parents, and then, when the adults return for act two, kids get to participate in theater workshops and activities. Children over the age of 12 can accompany their parents to the mainstage show.
“We felt a strong sense of responsibility to the community to do something significant, otherwise we are not living up to our mission,” says Speck. “For me, personally, helping and loving others is at the heart of what I believe and what I practice in my faith. And with Harvey for Harvey, that’s what we are doing: We are trying to show our love to the community of Houston.”
While the company has always done mainstream productions and classics such as Twelve Angry Men and The Diary of Anne Frank, leadership has deliberately set out to select plays that have a strong moral component to them. In addition, A.D. Players has routinely performed the works of its founder Jeannette Clift George, many of which have biblical themes. Even so, Speck is quick to dispel the preconceived notions some folks might have—himself included—that all the shows are “bathrobes, beards and Bibles.”
With Harvey, it just turns out they're putting on a very human play with a heavenly resonance.
“I think this is such a spiritual play,” says Kevin Dean, a longtime A.D. Players company member who stars in Harvey as Elwood P. Dowd, the only person who can see the rabbit Harvey. “There’s something about the idea of why Harvey gravitates to Elwood. It’s because Elwood is hurting. And think of where Elwood spends his own time, in bars, for example. That’s also a place where people are hurting. Harvey brings healing to Elwood’s life and he wants to share that.”
Harvey, Sept. 15-Oct. 1, with previews Sept. 13 and 14. A.D. Players, 5420 Westheimer Rd. 713-526-2721. More info at adplayers.org.